Where does America's intense fear of Communism (and other ISMs) originate and how has this fear influenced our culture in Post WWI society?
Kat Lynch

Americans have an obsession with freedom. It is our one defining characteristic to which we remain loyal to the very end. Ironically, in the obstinate quest to protect our beloved democratic principles from the ISMs (those crazy radical communists/socialists/anarchists) we ignorantly offer up our natural rights as citizens. One of the greatest historical exemplifications of our fear of Communism and other radical ideologies is the mass hysteria experienced during the Red Scares after the first and second World Wars; the extreme indulgence of intolerance and paranoia set a dangerous precedent for modern society and helped shed light on America's true colors.

What exactly is Communism?

Click on the link below to listen to the first chapter of The Communist Manifesto itself! You can read along as you listen too! :-)

Communism.jpgThe ideology of communism is based upon the maxim “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” (1)
Communism is a socio-political philosophy originally defined by German economists Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels in their Communist Manifesto that calls for a classless society. Responding to the suffering of the working class, Communism is a proposed solution to the unequal distribution of wealth, recognizing that wherever there is wealth, there will also be poverty. Thus, the rebellion of the proletarians (working class) against the bourgeoisie (middle class) is necessary to bring happiness and prosperity for all. Herein lies the fundamental difference between capitalism (America) and Communism; whereas America is built upon the belief in individual wealth, Communism stresses forced equality and sameness, dismissing religion as the "opiate of the masses". Another major source of conflict between capitalism and communism is the issue of ownership; the right to own private property is ingrained into the very rudiments of American civilization (John Locke, one of the main sources of inspiration for our own Declaration of Independence “The great and chief end therefore, of Mens uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under Government, is the Preservation of their Property.”) (2)

"Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains" ~ Karl Marx
For the purposes of answering my analytical question, I think it is also important to understand more about socialism and anarachism as they too are discussed. As undeducated Americans, and perhaps acting as yet another government ploy to control the masses, we tend to know and care very little about understanding and respecting these differences. Socialist, communist, what does it really matter? In the minds of the average American, they are simply another crazy leftist radical attempting to wreak havoc and unsettle the comfortable ignorance. Socialism and Communism are very similar in the fact that they are both responses to capitalistic society, communism is merely a more advanced stage of the proposed new world. Both share the notion of public ownership; however, socialism tends to be more economic than social and where communism is “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, socialism is "from each according to his ability, to each according to his deed". (3)
Anarchism, on the other hand, calls for the absence of any sovereign rule; essentially, anarchists want a society where individuals co-operate without a master (or government). As told by the famous anarchist, Bartolomeo Vanzetti,

“I champion the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the simple and the persecuted. I maintain that whosoever benefits or hurts a man benefits or hurts the whole species. I sought my liberty and the liberty of all, my happiness and the happiness of all. I wanted a roof for every family, bread for every mouth, education for every heart, light for every intellect.
I am convinced that human history has not yet begun, that we find ourselves in the last period of the prehistoric. I see with the eyes of my soul how the sky
is diffused with the rays of the new millennium.”—Bartolomeo Vanzetti. (4)


Why do we fear it so much?

Many factors contribute to our fear, and, ultimately, hatred of Communism. Focusing on the First and Second Red Scares, we see how amidst the post-war chaos, Communists, foreigners, radicals, essentially, anyone UN-AMERICAN, were scape-goated and viciously attacked. This fear originates from America's "countersubversive tradition: the irrational notion that outsiders (who could be political dissidents, foreigners, or members of racial and religious minorities) threatened the nation from within." (5) This insecurity then festers, causing Americans to demonize those deemed un-American (the "other"). After the Bolshevik Revolution 1917 (giving way to the American Communist Party) and the debacle of World War One, desperate Americans chose their convenient "other"; that is, the nation could heal by uniting against the common enemy of communism. Fearful people also tend to be easier to control; after WWI the government exploited lingering fear and used it as a political tool. Additionally, Communism provided an easy excuse to dismiss labor and union unrest within America; the government labeled laborers and strikers as communist radicals, thus relieving the government of any responsibility.

Of course, there are ideological differences as well. Perhaps due to the nature of our founding as a country, Americans are incredibly wary of any extreme policies that might compromise the stability of our Republican Democracy. We hate non-conformity and anything that threatens our consumer culture. This unease, complemented by the nature of Communism AND the panicked post-war environment proved to be a recipe for disaster. In addition, after WWII, American fear grew due to Communist expansionist tendencies; the Soviet Union extended Communist-controlled governments in many nations including Bulgaria, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and North Korea. This expansion prompted Eisenhower's original Domino Theory*, which influenced foreign policy from 1950 to 1980.

*The Domino Theory was used to clarify America's intervention around the world,
stating that if one nation fell to communism, all others would follow. It inspired George Kennan's
containment policy and the Truman Doctrine of 1947

How has this fear influenced our society?

The First Red Scare (1917-1920)

it_wont_explode_in_americaAs the name suggests, the first Red Scare was a time of vast anti-communist hysteria in America. This period after WWI was characterized by suspicion of communists and radicals, especially anarchists, who might pose a threat to capitalism. Because simultaneously this period was wrought with frequent labor strikes, encouraged by the radical Industrial Workers of the World, resentment of communism was exacerbated as laborers were associated with "the red menace". The panic resulted in a gross abuse 1st Amendment Rights and a general neglect for civil liberties. The war had left Americans feeling vulnerable, resulting in a heightened paranoia of foreign agitators.
The government reacted to growing unease with a series of legislative reforms and violations of human rights including the Palmer Raids, Sedition Act of 1918, the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, and the growing power of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI.
The Palmer Raids (named for Attorney General Mitchell Palmer)
After a number of labor conflicts and bomb attacks (attributed to various left wing radical groups), the Bureau of Investigation authorized a series of raids on suspected radical citizens and immigrants.

"Hyphenated Americans (who) have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life.
Such creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy must be crushed out"
~President Woodrow Wilson (1916)

The government continued on with their anti-OTHER spree by passing the Espionage Act in 1917 and later the Sedition Act of 1918. These acts established punishments for disloyalty and un-American activities such as employing "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the government, Constitution, flag, or military. (7) Even though in my opinion this is a clear violation of First Amendment Rights, these laws there upheld by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and his "clear and present danger" clause. This act implemented prison terms for anyone who interfered with the draft or encouraged "disloyalty". After a raid of her office, anarchist Emma Goldman was charged with conspiracy to "induce persons not to register" (a clause under the new Espionage Act) and sentenced to jail. In her defense she invoked the First Amendment:

"We say that if America has entered the war to make the world safe for democracy, she must first make democracy safe in America.
How else is the world to take America seriously, when democracy at home is daily being outraged, free speech suppressed,
peaceable assemblies broken up by overbearing and brutal gangsters in uniform;
when free press is curtailed and every independent opinion gagged?
Verily, poor as we are in democracy, how can we give of it to the world?" ~Goldman

The First Red Scare had important consequences; it established an anti-Communist community based in both government organizations and business groups AND set a dangerous precedent for the neglect of First Amendment Rights.

*In honor of the 80th anniversary of Sacco and Vanzetti, Democracy Now! did an entire show devoted to uncovering the meaning and history behind their trial. To read the full transcript click the link below:

The Second Red Scare (1947-1957)

Committee on Un-American Activities

Again occurring in a post-war society, the Second Red Scare stemmed from growing fears of the expanding Soviet Union (and communism), the Berlin Blockade, and the Korean War. This second wave of anti-communist sentiment resulted in red-baiting, blacklisting, imprisonment, deportation, increased prejudices, more violations of rights, and the infamous McCarthy witch-hunts.
Americans were concerned for their security, and in this country, security takes precedent over everything else. They feared growing communist power of the Soviet Union and, of course, the USSR's acquisition of the Atomic bomb. Many associated this foreign threat with that of the domestic Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) which had increased in popularity due to the Great Depression. Communism tends to be most attractive when conditions are the poorest, as recognized by Truman and Eisenhower in their attempts to quell the spread of communist nations. Of course, this Red Scare also coincided with the Cold War, which meant tensions on a foreign level between the United States and communists (Soviet Union) were already high.

According to one of my favorite people of all time, Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States

" When, right after the war, the American public, war-weary, seemed to favor demobilization and disarmament, the Truman administration (Roosevelt had died in April 1945) worked to create an atmosphere of crisis and cold war. True, the rivalry with the Soviet Union was real--that country had come out of the war with its economy wrecked and 20 million people dead, but was making an astounding comeback, rebuilding its industry, regaining military strength. The Truman administration, however, presented the Soviet Union as not just a rival but an immediate threat.
In a series of moves abroad and at home, it established a climate of fear--a hysteria about Communism--which would steeply escalate the military budget and stimulate the economy with war-related orders. This combination of policies would permit more aggressive actions abroad, more repressive actions at home.....
The United States was trying, in the postwar decade, to create a national consensus - excluding the radicals, who could not support a foreign policy aimed at suppressing revolution-of conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, around the policies of cold war and anti-Communism. Such a coalition could best be created by a liberal Democratic President, whose aggressive policy abroad would be supported by conservatives, and whose welfare programs at home (Truman's "Fair Deal") would be attractive to liberals. If, in addition, liberals and traditional Democrats could-the memory of the war was still fresh- support a foreign policy against "aggression," the radical-liberal bloc created by World War II would be broken up. And perhaps, if the anti-Communist mood became strong enough, liberals could support repressive moves at home which in ordinary times would be seen as violating the liberal tradition of tolerance. In 1950, there came an event that speeded the formation of the liberal-conservative consensus--Truman's undeclared war in Korea.
" (6)mccarthy.jpg

This second panic all started when President Truman instigated Executive Order 9835 in 1947 which created the Federal Employees Loyalty Program intended to investigate the loyalty of
federal employees. Soon after, the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and committees led by Joseph McCarthy began investigating supposed subvsersive activity. HUAC was originally started to focus on the labor movement and New Deal agencies and any possible ties to Communists. Again, Americans were obsessed with this idea of Communist infiltration of the government; this obsession exacerbated paranoia and led to exaggerated threats on the dangers of radicalism. Hungry for political power, Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin exploited American fear and started a witch hunt for communists. He recklessly targeted government employees and Union leaders as "communist sympathizers" with no little to no proof and greatly amplified anti-communist sentiments for his own political greed.
In fact, his actions were so heinous, the term McCarthyism is now used to describe all of the actions during this Second Red Scare, associated with HUAC, blacklisting, and questionable FBI investigations under J.Edgar Hoover. This was an era when personal political gain and fear blinded Americans; there was little regard for the law, as evidenced by Hoover's illegal investigations and McCarthy's blatant lies, not to mention the extended suspension of First Amendment rights and unabashed prejudice. "Have you no sense of decency sir?" ~ Welch

This is an edited exchange between Senator Joseph McCarthy and legal counsel to the army, Mr. Welch. Really brilliant.

This is from KPFK's Democracy Now! radio show hosted by Amy Goodman. The show featured John Nichols commenting on the comparison made between protest_blacklist
Joseph McCarthy and Republican Michele Bachmann. You can read the transcript at http://www.democracynow.org/2008/10/21/john_nichols_on_the_gops_new

McCarthyism was also responsible for the Hollywood blacklisting; a list of actors, screenwriters, directors etc. denied employment due to their political associations, most commonly, for being supposed communist sympathizers. The blacklisting officially started in 1947 when ten studio executives were fired for refusing to testify in front of HUAC. Once again, there was very little, if any, proof to associate them with the American Communist Party, and many careers were ruined based off of pure speculation. Legislation supported the anti-communist sentiment, passing many acts against the party including the Hatch Act of 1939 (banned Communists and totalitarians from government employment), the Voorhis Act of 1940 (requiring government registration) and the Smith Act of 1940, a peacetime sedition act. (5)

Though Truman would later complain of the "great wave of hysteria" sweeping the nation, his commitment to victory over communism, to completely safeguarding the United States from external and internal threats, was in large measure responsible for creating that very hysteria. Between the launching of his security program in March 1947 and December 1952, some 6.6 million persons were investigated. Not a single case of espionage was uncovered, though about 500 persons were dismissed in dubious cases of "questionable loyalty." All of this was conducted with secret evidence, secret and often paid informers, and neither judge nor jury. Despite the failure to find subversion, the broad scope of the official Red hunt gave popular credence to the notion that the government was riddled with spies. A conservative and fearful reaction coursed the country. Americans became convinced of the need for absolute security and the preservation of the established order. (6)
~Douglas Miller and Marion Nowack

The most important consequence of this Second Red Scare was the formation of an anti-communist coalition. This coalition united both conservatives and liberals against a common feared enemy--"the kind of coalition that was needed to sustain a policy of intervention abroad, militarization of the economy at home" (6). The seed of fear was planted in American society and by the Cold War Era, that fear blossomed and morphed into partisan prejudices and political prejudice; fear turned to paranoia which was exploited and abused by the American government. By allowing our fear of Communism to consume us, Americans robbed themselves of the very freedoms they were trying to protect.



2009: America still hates the ISMs. Why?

Since WWI, America has been in a nearly constant state of war. Whether foreign or domestic, we
perpetually wage new battles with new specifics, but all with the same fundamental pretense: the
preservation of American democracy. As a country founded on principles of individual and personal liberties,
we have a deeply rooted paranoia about our freedom. In fact, we are so blinded by our love of the American
Dream, we are easily deluded by rhetoric. All any politician has to do to stir up trouble is mention the robbing
of our freedoms or throw in an ISM (like the recent rumors accusing Obama of being a socialist!)
How do we get away with this? How do we excuse our actions of illegal warfare? Well, that is simple: we are acting in defense, protecting our democratic values. In fact, we are not only protecting OUR vaules, but we are generously attempting to spread them all around the world! Starting with President Wilson's pretense for World War I "making the world safe for democracy", we have become democracy-obsessed. Our government uses terror psychology in its attempt to maintain law and order. First with the Red Scares, then the Cold War, then the "War on Terror", it is FEAR that inspires American actions, not patriotism.
→A popular technique in political campaigns is to simply accuse one's
opponent of being a socialist, communist, radical, extremist etc...

The ISM is the national scape-goat; it is a powerful tool to unite us as a nation and manipulate the people, frozen from fear.

Please enjoy some good ol' American anti-communist propaganda videos! ;-)

"Working together to produce an ever greater abundance of
material and spiritual values for all. That is the secret of
American prosperity."

This video, sponsored by Harding College, is one example of an anti-communist propaganda video. It is designed to glorify our capitalistic system and warn against the dangers of the ISM by using terror psychology. If you can get through the creepy animation, it is really quite poignant. :-)

"If we, unless we, make sure that there is no infiltration of our government....then just as certain as you sit there, in the period of our lives,
you will see a red world."


→This video so eloquently explains the many reasons why "we are spending billions of dollars in defense production. Why your family is paying the highest taxes in our history..." This has been an increasing trend stemming from our fear of the ISM---increase military budgets for DEFENSE to protect against the crazies. I wonder if that could be applied to 2009?

Works Cited:




From Text:
1. http://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/what-is-communism-faq.htm
2. http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/john-locke-natural-rights-to-life-liberty-and-property/
3. http://www.marxmail.org/faq/socialism_and_communism.htm
4. http://www.democracynow.org/2007/8/22/sacco_and_vanzetti_80_years_after
6. http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/zinn-chap16.html
7. http://law.jrank.org/pages/4232/Alien-Sedition-Acts-Sedition-Act-1918.html